Could the U.S. follow Australia into new COVID-19 lockdowns?

new covid lockdowns australia
Photo via Pedro Skezely/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

As a result of the COVID-19 delta variant’s spread around the globe, Australia is instituting new lockdowns in an effort to ward off another wave of the pandemic. Some U.S. officials are wondering if they should impose new lockdowns of their own.

According to a June 28 Guardian report, most states and territories in Australia, with the exception of the island state of Tasmania, are living under COVID-19-related restrictions. Those range from full lockdowns in major population centers like Sydney, Darwin and Perth to indoor mask mandates in Adelaide and Canberra.

“Australians have lived a charmed life for much of the pandemic because of the rigid rules that are often implemented at the first sign of the virus,” the Guardian article notes. The country’s low vaccination rates—with less than 5% of Australians fully vaccinated—is making the new lockdown efforts necessary to control COVID-19 cases.

Australians under 40 are now able to receive the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine if they request it, despite official advice recommending the Pfizer vaccine for anyone age 60 of younger. Previously, those under 40 were left out of the vaccination rollout, in part because of limited availability, but also in part due to concerns over blood clotting that halted the vaccine’s rollout in Europe.

“Worries that the variant first detected in India could touch off outbreaks” are now triggering the three-day and four-day lockdowns that will impact more than 20 million Australians—about 80% of the population in total, according to Reuters.

“The risk is real and we need to act quickly, we need to go hard, we need to go fast,” Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said.

While the largest outbreak is traced to a single neighborhood and so far only involves a little more than 120 cases, it’s concerning for a country that had all but eliminated COVID-19. In all, a combination of lockdowns and contact tracing, as well as travel restrictions for its surrounded-by-water borders, have helped Australia limit COVID-19’s impact to just 30,500 cases and 910 deaths.

In the U.S., the delta variant is also causing concern, and lockdowns could be coming despite recent trends that have created a climate of greater permissiveness and more crowds allowed to gather.

A CNN report on June 29 noted that former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb observed that the U.S is “about a month or two behind the U.K.—a country that has been dealing with high numbers of cases despite relatively high vaccination rates.”

The World Health Organization advised in late June that fully vaccinated people should continue to wear masks due to questions around the delta variant’s spread. Some health officials are wondering what steps might need to be taken next.

In Los Angeles County, officials reinstated mask guidance for public indoor spaces on June 28, regardless of vaccination status.

Calling it a “precautionary measure,” the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health noted that the mask guidance is needed until health officials can “better understand how and to who the delta variant is spreading.” This is despite indications that both mRNA versions of vaccine available in the U.S.—the Moderna vaccine and the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine — offer protection against the delta variant.

Sources: Guardian, Reuters, CNN

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